Wolfgang Amadeus Mozrt is an iconic figure in western culture ; we hear his music constantly , or fragments of it, constantly in popular culture, on television etc , and countless people have seen the entertaining if not very historically accurate film Amadeus . But how well do we really know his music , which consists of approximtely 600 works of all kinds written during his tragically brief life of 35 years ?
Only a small part of which which is performed everywhere by orchestras ,opera companies and other groups . LIke so many famous composers , Mozart is known to the general public by only a small number of his numerous works . These include 41 (numbered) symphonies , 22 operas, several which are in fragmentary form, 27 piano concertos , numerous string quartets and chamber works for a variety of instruments , religious works for chorus and orchestra , concertos for flute, oboe, violin , clarinet, bassoon, French horn , many pio sonatas and miscellaneous works for that instrument , oratorios and other works for chorus and orchestra ,etc .
So lately , I've been taking a advantage of chance to hear many works of his I had not heard before or knew only slightly on CD because one of the public libraries I frequent has a collection of ALL of Mozarts works in many volumes on the Philips label performed by a wide variety of distinguished conductors , top orchestras , violinists ,pianists , opera singers , choruses and chamber ensembles . All of these recordings have been availble singly , and you may still be able to find some of them on the internet at Amazon.com and Arkivmusic.com .
Unfortunately , the Philips label , which was based in the Netherlands , is no longer producing classical recordings , although much of its large and excellent back catalogue of recordings is being reissued on the Decca Label, with which it was affiliated , so it's probably very difficult to find this huge set .
For example, Mozart's best known operas include such familiar masterpieces as Don Giovanni , The Marriage of Figaro and the Magic Flute . These are the products of Mozart's last years . But he began writing operas as a boy , including such obscure ones as Bastien & Bastienne, Mitridate , King of Pontus, Il Re Pastore (The shepard king) , La Finta Giardinera ( the pretended woman gardener ), Lucio Silla , and others . None of these has held the stage because they are hardly immortal masterpieces of the opera repertoire , although the Salzburg festival , which is in his native city presented a cycle of all 22 Mozart operas back in 2006 , the 250th anniversary of his birth .
But it's amazing that such a young boy could write them at all . They're pleasant to hear , if not nearly as memorable as his mature works for the operatic stage . No, not every work Mozart wrote is a sublime masterpiece . It took quite a few years for this great genius to reach maturity , and who knows how many masterpieces he might have produced if he had lived beyond the short lifespan fate assigned to him .
Like so many composers of the day , Mozart wrote works on commission to make money . He didn't just wait there until "inspiration" struck him . He worked very hard , and many of his works are mere potboilers , which is nothing to be ashamed of . For a long time, Mozart worked as official court composer to the archbishop of his native Salzburg , and did not like living there as pretty much a hack for the archbishop, whom he disliked . For the last ten years of his tragically short life, he was able to move to Vienna , the center of music in Europe and worked as a free lance composer and pianist . It was not as secure a living as in provincial Salzburg , but he relished the freedom and was able to write his greatest symphonies ,operas , concertos and chamber works there , the ones by which he is best known .
But I'm still glad to have gotten the chance to hear the forgotten corners of the output of one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music . There's a saying that goes "No one can be a genius 24 hours a day ". But Mozart's best hours have provided us with so many great works .
When we think about composers , we usually think of men . Why are there no female Beethovens , Mozarts , and Bachs ?
Why do we almost always hear music by men alone at concerts ? The reasons cannot be explained by sexism alone , although sexism certainly has played a role in this .
There have been women composers from the very beginning of what we call western classical music , centuries ago . And far more than most people realize . After googling a list of them , I found a list of hundrends of them going back nearly a thousand years ago to the present day . Women composers from every corner of Europe , plus Americans ,Candians and Asians etc . None of them household names , but some with some reputation and familiar to died in the wool classical music buffs .
Pauline Viardot , Dame Ethyl Smyth , Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade , Lili Boulanger , Germaine Tailleferre , Louise Farrenc, Grazyna Bacewicz , Ruth Crawford Seeger , Elisabeth Lutyens , ? You've probably never heard of any of these women composers , but they all had some reputation in the past , and music by all of them has been recorded . And numerous other women composers .
Clara Schumann ( 1819 - 1896 ) was the wife of the great Robert Schumann , and survived him by 40 years . She was a renowned pianist and a composer in her own wright . Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny showed considerable musical talent, and also composed . But unfortunately , her very proper family did not think it appropriate for a young lady to compose, and some of her works were actually published under her much more famous brother's name !
Ethyl Smyth of England was probably the best known woman composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries , and she was actually awarded the title of Dame Ethyl Smyth . Her opera "The Wreckers", her best known work , was successfully performed all over Europe and England , and a recording of it was made in London some years ago . She also has the distinction of be9ing the only women composer to have have an opera performed by the Metropolitan opera , about a century ago . It was in German and called "Der Wald " (the forest ), but hs faded into oblivion since , like so mny other operas whether the composer was male or female .
But in recent years , barriers to to women making successful careers have been receding , and the glass ceiling is being shattered . There are now more women composers than ever before , and more young aspring women composers studying in music schools everywhere . It's no longer even news when an orchestra plays a work by a woman composer any more or an opera house does an opera by one .
Kaaia Saariaho of Finland (1952 -) is one of today's most widely performed composers , male or female , and her music has been championed by such eminent conductors as her countryman Esa-Pekka Salonen , Kent Nagano and others , and recorded . Her opera "L'Amour de Loin " (love from afar ) , set toa libretto in French, is the story of medieval love mong the troubadors , has had international acclain and has been available both on CD and DVD .
Jennifer Higdon (1962 - ) has written numerous orchestrl works which have been performed by leading orchestras all over America and elsewhere . South Korea's Unsuk Chin hs written a highly etertaining opera based on Alice in Wonderland , which can be found on DVD .
Sofia Gubaidullina , (1931 -) is Russia's best known woman composer , and her music has been performed all over the world and has been championed by many eminent composers and instrumentalists . Judith Weir (1954 -) is proably England's best known living woman composer .
This list barely scratches the surface . But one thing is certain ; it's a better time to be a woman composer than ever before .
The great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was born 200 years ago today , to humbe parents in a small town in northern Italy near Parma . He grew up to become the foremost Italian opera composer of his day , a national hero in Italy , and many of his 26 operas are beloved fixtures of the operatic repertoire all over the world . When he died a venerated old man in Milan in 1901 , his funeral was a national event attended by thousands .
Everyone knows the so-called "Anvil chorus " and "La Donna e Mobile ", even people who have never been inside an opera house , but these are only a couple of the greatest hits from his operas . Verdi's operas are stirring, melodious , full of action and vivid characters such as the bitter , hunchbacked court jester Rigoletto , Violetta , the doomed consumptive Parisian courtesan in La Traviata , Azucena , the Spanish gypsy woman who is consumed with lust for vengance , Aida , the Ethiopian handmaid to the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh who is desperately in love with her betrothed, the commander of the Egyptian army but cannot hve him , the fat , drunken English rogue Falstaff , and others ,
So it's no wonder these operas have been so popular at opera houses everywhere since the mid 19th century . Verdi gave audiences what they wanted , and more . And they still speak to us today . He was a practical man of the theater who used the conventions of Italian opera as a tool for realizing his genius , but ws never afraid to be innovative . In this , he was vastly different from his great German contemporary Richard Wagner, born in the same year , 1813 in Leipzig , who was a visionary and revolutionary whose musical goals were sometimes extravagant,impractical and quixotic , and who caused so miuch controversy both in his day and long after . They are apples and oranges . Both towering figures in the history of opera .
Many of the greatest opera singers of the 19th and 20th centuries have achieved world renown singing the operas of Verdi , as well as recording them . Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso , Rosa Ponselle, Renata Tebaldi , Renata Scotto , Luciano Pavarotti , Placido Domingo , Tito Gobbi , Mario Del Monaco , Sherrill Milnes , Nicolai Ghiaurov , Richard Tucker , Zinka Milanov , Leontyne Price , to name only handful .
And they have been conducted by such legendary maestros as Arturo Toscanini , who knew him personally and learned from him , Tullio Serafin , Victor De Sabata , Claudio Abbado , Carlo Maria Giulini, Riccardo Muti , as well as non-italian conductors Herbert von Karajan , Sir Georg Solti , James Levine , and others .
Verdi's most popular operas include his final two masterpieces Otello , based on the Shakespeare play Othello , Falstaff , based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives Of Windsor , the earlier Aida , set in ancient Egypt , Il Trovatore , set in medieval Spain , Rigoletto , La Traviata (the woman who strayed ) , Don Carlo , the story of the 16th century Spanish king Philip and his rebellious son Carlos , Un Bllo in Maschera ( a masked ball ) , story of the assssination of the Swedish king Gustaf , and Macbeth , also based on the Shakespeare play .
The early operas of Verdi are not performed nearly as often , but they are sometimes revived , and include Nabucco , story of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews under king Nebachudnezzar (Nabucco is the Italian form of the name ) , Attila , somewhat fictionalized story of the king of the Huns , etc . The Italians pronounce Attila with the accent on the first syllable .
Among Verdi's non-operatic works are the beloved Requiem , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead , which he wrote despite the fact that he was an agnostic . Many other composers , including Mozart and Berlioz , have written settings of the requiem , but Verdi's is perhaps the most popular . It has been described as a somewhat operatic version of sacred music , but no one seems to object to this ! The Requiem was written around 1870 to honor the death of the once famous Italian novelist Alessndro Manzoni , whom Verdi and so many other Italians revered .
If you are new to Verdi's operas , there are an enormous number of complete recordings of them to choose from . You might start with Rigoletto,La Traviata , Il Trovatore , and Aida , and the recordings by such great singers as Pavarotti , Callas, Renata Scotto , Tito Gobbi , Leontyne Price , Robert Merrill etc on such presitigious record labels as Decca ,EMI, R.C.A., and Deutsche Grammophon , with such great conductors as Carlo Maria Giulini, Clauido Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Sir Georg Solti nd Herbert von Karajan .
There are also numerous live performances on DVD from the Metropolitan opera, La Scala ,Milan , the Royal opera in London , etc . You'll soon learn why Verdi's operas are so popular !
It's early October , and the world's symphony orchestras ,opera companies etc are back in business . The world's who knows how many orchestras and opera companies have been revving up . The classical music world is beset with troubles ; many performing arts organizations are struggling with finances and/ or labor disputes , and the risk of folding because of tough economic times is widespread . Some have indeed gone under , but the vast majority are alive and kicking .
There are threatened orchestras and opera companies as well as defunct ones in such American cities as Minneapolis , Boston , New York , Nashville, Louisville , San Antonio , St. Paul , to name only some . Many orchestral musicians have been forced to accept pay cuts . Nothing is certain except uncertainty .
But there is also good news . James Levine , the beloved longtime music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the pit for the first time in two years after a long and painful struggle with severe back trouble and injuries , despite being confined to a wheelchair . The prestigious Philadelphia orchestra seems to be doing well under its gifted and charismatic music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Canada after a long search for a new music director , and has just issued a recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring under him on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label .
The Boston symphony orchestra is anticipating the arrival of the gifted young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons as its new music director , replacing Levine , who was forced to resign because of his health problems .
But financial problems are now threatening Europe's orchestras and opera companies after decades of generous government subsidies . In Germany , even such prestigious orchestras as the Stuttgart radio orchestra and the South West German radio orchestra in the resort town of Baden Baden could go under .
There will still be enormous diversity of repertoire performed all over the world . Never in the centuries old tradition of western classical music has such wide variety of works by so many different composers ,living and dead , been performed . The beloved staples of the operatic, orchestral and chamber music repertoire re still very much with us - music by Mozart ,Beethoven, Bach , Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak , Wagner, Verdi,Puccini , etc , but there is no lack of new music by a wide variety of living composers , and many interesting long neglected works from the past are being revived .
Dead White European Males have no monopoily on what is being heard . Among the very much alive are John Adams , Philip Glass , Christopher Rouse , Jennifer Higdon , Nico Muhly , of America , Osvaldo Golijov of Argentina , now living in America , Kaaia Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg of Finland , Wolfgang Rihm of Germany , Arvo Part of Estonia , Krzystof Penderecki of Poland , Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle of England , and Unsuk Chin of South Korea . Saariaho , Higdon , and Chin are women . It's no longer even news when a work by a woman composers is performed any more .
A number of eminent conductors have passed away recently , including Wolfgang Sawallisch , Sir Colin Davis , Paavo Berglund ,Kurt Sanderling , and Bruno Bartoletti , but there are brilliant younger conductors beginning to achieve international prominence, such as Gustavo Dudamel , Andris Nelsons , Robin Ticciati and others , and such great maestros as Claudio Abbado , Riccrdo Muti, James Levine , Bernrd Haitink , Mriss Jansons , Daniel Barenboim , Leonard Slatkin , Simon Rattle , Lorin Maazel , Valery Gergiev , and others are still going strong .
There is still a galaxy of great opera singers , pianists , violinists and cellists etc , and there are more world class orchestras than ever before . Don't believe the hype - classical music is far from being dead or dying .
Recently, I borrowed a CD from my local library of recordings by the once famous , or notorious American soprano ? Forence Foster Jenkins , who my have been the worst snger in the history of the vocal art . This eccentric lady , who managed to make a successful career despite her apprent lack of any vocal talent or musicianship , is one of the most curious stories in the history of classical music .
She was born the daughter of a wealthy banker in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvnia in 1868 and was a total amateur . She studied voice in Europe despite a lack of ny talent , and when her father died in 1909 she inherited enough to begin making a career of sorts on her own .
Jenkins' singing is so awful it's fun ! She could not sing on pitch to sve her life , her rhythmic accurcy was non-existent and she sounded like a wounded duck ! Her pronunciation of foreign languages was comically bad . But audiences loved her demented caterwauling ! In a sense, she may have been the first performance artist , active long before the term was invented .
She would perform in elaborate and ridiculous-looking costumes of her own design , including one with angel's wings , changing at least twice during recitals . She was able to book even prestigious Carnegie hall for herself , nd her recitals were egerly awaited and actually sold out ! Her accompanist was the grotesquely-named Cosmo Mc Moon , who was able to adjust to her rhythmic and musical ineptitude and even wrote some songs for her . She tried to tackle some very difficult operatic arias with hilariously disastrous results , such as the fiendishly difficult revenge aria of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's famous opera The Magic Flute .
On the recording, you can hear how she is totally unable to reach the dizzying high notes of this aria and is off by a mile ! The ironic thing is that she always considered herself to be a serious singer ! The CD is on the R.C..A. label . If you're unable to find it. check youtube, which has wealth of performances by famous classical musicians . It's a blast !
For nearly a year, the classical music world has been wringing its collective hands over the plight of the members of the Minnesota orchestra of Minneapolis , an orchestra with a long and illustrious history . Due to protracted disagreements with the orchestra's management over salary nd benefits etc , the musicians have been locked out by the intransigent individuals who run the orchestra , particularly its general manager, who shall remain nameless here .
It's almost time for the beginning of the orchestra's 2013-14 season , and no way through the impasse is in sight . The orchestra's music director and chief conductor , the distinguished Finnish maestro Osmo Vanska , has threatened to resign if the orchestra does not settle the lockout in time for the new season, which includes appearnces at Carnegie hall . Thisw is a pity, because the orchestra has been enjoying international acclaim under Vanska's leadership and had begun to make commercial studio recordings , incluidng an acclaimed set of all 9 Beethoven symphonies at a time when very few orchestras anywhere are making commercil stuido recordings becuse of economic difficulties .
Sessions to record symphonies by Sibelius, a specialty of the maestro given his Finnish nationality , have been cancelled . Several musicians in the orchestra have successfully auditioned for positions in other major U.S. orchestras . The fate of one of America's finest orchestra is uncertin, an orchestra which had flourished under the dirrection of such eminent conductors as Dimitri Mitropoulos, Antal Dorati,Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Edo DeWaart .
The orchestra has called on the government of the state of Minnesota for help , but no end to the mess is in sight . The musicians nd the management are at each others throats , but the management will not give in . If you are a Minnesota resident, PLEASE contact your local representiatives and the two Minnesota senators and sk them to intervene . The fate of one of America's finest orchestras is at stake .
There's a thought-provoking article in the current issue of The New Republic by Philip Kennicott, art and architecture critic of the Washington Post , who has also been active as a music critic , on the woes of America's symphony orchestras . Why are so many of them hving severe financial difficulties , and why have so many gone under in recent years , or come dangerously close to folding ? Why is it so difficult to find new blood at concerts these days , and why has the audence been aging ? Why aren't there more young adults there ? Can the symphony orchestra survive in these diffiucult times ? Is it even relevant anymore ? Or is it just a "museum" and a "dinosaur "? Who or what is to blame for this predicament ?
Of course , there are no easy answers to these questions , and the roots of our orchestra's problems are varied .Kenniicott describes conditions today in the orchestral world in America : it's very diffcult to please many subscribers or those who attend concerts sporadically ; many in the audiences are older classical music lovers who are set in their ways and are reluctant to hear works tht are unfamiliar to them , and many find 20th century or early 21st century music not merely unappealing but downright unpleasant . They want to hear their beloved familiar msterpieces by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov etc . They know what they like and like what they know .
Conductors who want to do their duty , which is to give new works a chance to be heard in order to prevent the repertoire from stagnating are in a bind , and the mangement is afraid of audiences voting with their feet . Many composers are angry md bitter that it's so diffiucult for them to get their orchestral works played . How can you blame them ? Many rely on commissions from orchestrs for their livelihood , and they also must teach at universities and music schools to ern a living , not that this is a bad thing . But it's difficult to think of any contemporary composer today who has gotten rich from his or her music alone .
Few young people are exposed to classical music today . Most public schools have long since jettisoned music appreciation classes , and this is no guarantee of turning a substantial number of youngsters into lovers of clssical music anyway . Time Magazine and some others used to have regular articles on classical music , and employed classical music journalists ot cover some of the leading conductors, instrumentlists and opera singers .
Despite this , there are more young people in music schools all over America than ever before , such as Juilliard and elsewhere aspiring to become members of America's many orchestrs or to mke careers as sololists on all the instruments , desipte the fact that competition for jobs in orchestras in incredibly stiff . But there are some who will eventually fill the shoes of such world-famous musicians as Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Van Cliburn and others . A substantial number of these are from Japan, South Korea and China , where youngsters ARE encouraged to become interested in classical music and to learn instruments .
The bright side of this is that the overall quality of orchestras in America has improved exponentially . No longer are the so-called "big five orchestras" , the New York Philhrmonic, Boston symphony, Philadelphia orchestra , Chicago symphony and Cleveland orchestra vastly superior to most of the others . If you go to a concert in some American cities that are not very famous or renowned for their orchestras , you will be amazed at the quality of the local orchestras . Los Angeles, San Francisco , Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh , Detroit, St.Louis, Washington, Baltimore , Seattle, San Diego , Indianapolis , Cincinnati , and others - all world class . This was not the case 50,60, or 70 years ago .
Now the issue of expenses . Orchestra musicians usually spend more years training to play in professional orchestras than medical students take to become doctors , but few make as much as doctors . It takes a lot of money to run a world class orchestra , with not only salaries for the musicians, conductors etc but the administrative staff . Musicians hope to at least earn a decent living, and the ones in the smaller regional orchestras have to supplement their pay with teaching and free lance work etc . The ones lucky enough to land jobs in the top orchestras can earn well over $ 100,000 a year ,have great benefits and two months ! paid vacation .
But ticket sales are not enough to cover the expenses , so orchestras in America need suport form the private sector, but this has been getting harder and harder to get . None has the generous government subsidies which have been taken for granted for so long in Europe . Hence the many in th eUSA which have gone under .
But one thing is certain ; our orchestras are NOT to blame for their troubles from an artistic point of view . They have not failed to make concertgoing worthwhile . There is absolutely no reason for more people not to attend concerts . If more people just knew how enjoyable classical music is , and that our orchestras are such high quality organizations , we could attract more people . But how do we do it ?
But I am convinced that the symphony orchestra will not go the way of the dinosaur . Somehow, our orchestras will adapt and survive . You cannot keep a great institution down .
Here's a curious story reported the other day by controversial music journalist Norman Lebrecht at his blog "Slipped Disc" at artsjournal.com. During the last performance of Wagner's Ring at the Bayreuth festival , an elderly man was found dead in his seat duirng an intermission . Things are never dull at the renowned Wagner fesitval !
The intermission , which was between the second and final act of Gotterdmmerung, the awesome climax of the Ring , had to be extended in order to remove the body .
This left me wondering . The much anticipated or rather feared bicentennial Ring , which was just about the most egregious travesty of the great Ring cycle imaginable , might have caused the unfortunate fellow enough emotional distress as to trigger his demise . So he responded with a kind of silent booing , namely croaking ! What a way to register your disapproval !
Wagner never imagined a production of the Ring his mighty and immortal Ring of the Nibelung set in America at a sleazy motel , with his Rhinemaidens lounging around a pool , nor did he epect another part of it to be set in Baku ,republic of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus on the Caspian sea , an oil rich Muslim region , and his Teutonic characters to be portrayed as superrich oil tycoons !
No wonder the unfortunate fellow died ! What a way to boo !
More than a few prominent classical musicians have declared that "conducting is a "phony profession ". (Not ocnductors of course ). After all, it's the musicians in the orchestra who actully produce the sounds the audience hears . The conductor makes no sounds ( during the performance of course ,not the rehearsals ) , and the baton , assuming one is used , not all conductors use them , doesn't make any sound, either .
But it's the conductors who get all the publicity and glamor and who command the highest salaries . Nobody pays any attention to Joe Schmo in the second violins even though he has to work very hard just like the other musicians in the orchestra . (The conductor doesn't have to work hard too ?) .
But think about it . In a war , the general doesn't go on the battlefield to fight with the troops . The football or basketball coach doesn't actually participate in the game as a member of the team . The CEO of a corporation doesn't work in a factory manufacturing products himself , yet none of these entities could function without a boss overseeing the whole operation .
Somebody has to coordinate what goes on at rehearsals and concerts , and the music director, or chief conductor of an orchestra , has to do a lot of administrative work such as choosing repertoire , hiring and firing musicians , working with the orchestr's board of directos and administrative staff etc. Each individual member of the orchestra is responsible for knowing and playing his or her individual part , but the conductor has to know EVERYONE'S part by studying the full score , which shows every musical line simultaneously ! Often 20, 30 or more different instumental lines with each instrumental part shown .
This is rather like trying to read a novel with 20 or more people talking at the same time with each person's words listed top to bottom ! No easy task, but conductors are specially trained to do this ,not to mention analyze what is going on . Of course, many classical musicians who are not conductors themselves can do this also, including yours truly .
Unless you know the score thoroughly , you have no business getting in front of an orchestra at a rehearsal or a performance . It takes years of hard study of harmony, counterpoint , orchestration , music history and musicological research to get to this point . Not to mention learning the piano and another instrument, such as violin, cello , etc. Having played in an orchestra yourself is always good training for the job , whatever instrument .
Rehearsals are where the real work is done . At the performance, all the conductor can do is stand there beating time as well as using various gestures to help the musicians through a performance . The basic beat patterns are very easy to learn , but actually putting them into practice is anything but easy ! The conductor is using a kind of rhythmical sign language .
A small orchestra playing a work by a composer from the 18th century doesn't really need a conductor badly ; the music is simple and straightforward compared to much music from the 19th century to the present day , which can be full of all manner of rhythmic booby traps which require a conductor to keep everyone together , and with the larger, louder brass sections of 19th to contemporary music , require someone to make sure those brass are not too loud, as they can easily drown out th erest of the orchestra if not kept in check .
Even if conducting is a "phony" profession , it's anything but an easy job !
Something is fishy in the Westchester county,NY public library system , at least when it comes to classical CDs . Recently , a CD I borrowed on their very convenient library interloan system was badly scratched and I could not play it through . Some moron seems to have damaged it badly . It's not easy to damage a CD; as long as you keep your fingers off the surface it should not give you any problems and will play fine indefinitely . .
And this is far from the first time this has happened to me with classical CDs I've borrowed , either from my local library or on interloan . What the heck is going on here ? You can see the damage right on the CDs . The idiot, or idiots who do this , are very inventive . One CD I borrowed had a purple splotch on it ! Of course, I couldn't play it through all the way .
This may seem like a crazy idea , but I have a hunch that there's some lunatic in Westechester county who hates classical music so much that he borrows classical CDs from libraries in order to deliberately scratch them ! He or she, is the classical CD gremlin . No classical CD is safe from this maniac !
It's enough to make you tear your hair out and climb up the wall ! I guess if ypu borrow as many CDs as I do, it's inevitable that you'll occaisionally get a damaged CD . But I wish this didn't happen so often ! But where is that damned classical CD gremlin ? If I ever get my hands on him . . . .
The world famous Wagner festival at the otherwise sleepy northern Bavariian town of Bayreuth has just opened , celelbrating the bicentennial of the birth of the mighty musical genius Richard Wagner . The festival has been going on with intermittant hiatuses since 1876 , several yers after Wagner quixotically chose this modest,undistinguished town in order to build a special opera house there to perform his stage works and nothing else . After closing for the second world war , the festival opened in 1951 under the management of Wagner's two grandsons , Wieland and Wolfgang , and has occurred every year since .
Now Wagner's great grandduaghters are running it , and the sets , costumes and stagings have changed far beyond anything he could ever have imagined .although the music itself has not changed . The festival features a much-anticipated and even dreaded production of Wagner's colossal four part operatic epic "The Ring Of The Nibelungen " directed by a controversial German director for the legitimate stage by the name of Frank Castorf , who had no previous experience directing operas .
Mix a director known for staging wildly revisionist versions of plays with the de rigeur policy of revisionist stagings of the Wagner canon at Bayreuth , and something outrageous is inevitable . Of course, such revisionist Eurotrash productions of opera are the norm all over Europe and to a lesser extrent in America . Perversely, it would be sacrilege to do a production which actually presented what Wagner had in mind , a mythical teutonic world of Germanic and Scandinavian gods, godesses, superheroes, water nixies, valkyries, dwarves who live inside the earth , giants , and assorted magical parapernalia .
What do we get in the new production at Bayreuth ? Well, for one thing, it's set mostly in America among ruthless oil dealers , and the nixies of the Rhine are hookers hanging around a sleazy motel out west . And instead of the mighty Rhine, they're in a swimming pool ! ! ! A photo of one of the sets reveals a hiideously ugly communist equivalent of Mount Rushmore , with Karl Marx , Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro ! Marx was an almost exact contemporary of Wagner ,and the two died in the same year ,1883 , but Mao was born ten years later . Wotan, ruler of the gods , is a greedy oil tycoon ! Sheesh !
Wagner isn't spinning in his grave , he's shooting out of it like a rocket ! The last productions to present the Ring in a manner Wagner would have recognized as what he conceived have been at the Metropolitan opera ; one dating from the 1980s and which was disliked by many critics but very popular with audiences , and the current and highly controversial one which uses a massive unit set of metal planks which constantly move around the stage combined with complex and sophisticated computer -generated lighting effects .
Criitical reaction so far ,both in Europe and America has been reserved but not angry . You can read a review of the opening night of "Das Rheingold ", the first part of the tetralogy ,in the New York Times by going to their website . It will probbly come out on DVD soon . But a better bet is to get the DVDs of both Met productions , available from Deutsche Grammophon records , complete with English subtitles , which will be a great help to you in comprehending this vast and awesome work . If you would actually like to go to Bayreuth , be warned that there is a ten year waiting period for tickets ! It's easier to get an audience with the Pope ! There are opera tours which go to Bayreuth and which have specially reserved tickets, but these are very expensive .
Classical music festivals all over Europe, America and elsewhere are getting started now , and the rich and varied offerings prove that Classical Music is very much alive and kicking despite the gloom and doom reports and the numerous orchestras and opera companies wordlwide which have either folded or are at imminent risking of doing so .
There is classical music for all tastes . Old music , new music , beloved staples of the repertoire and revivals of long neglected but intriguing works of all kinds , operatic , orchestral , chamber music , you name it . As usual , many of the world's foremost conductors , instrumentalists and opera singers will be there , as well as the world's greatest orchestras .
In every corner of Europe and America . In Europe , there are the grand ,venerable and long established festivals such as those in Mozart's birthplace Salzburg in Austria , the Wagner festival at Bayreuth ,Germany , this year celelbrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Wagner , the opera festival at the elegant country estate in Glyndebourne , England , as well as ones in such great Europeans cities as Vienna, Berlin, Munich , Amsterdam , Paris , Munich , Aix-En-Provence in the south of France , Dresden , Moscow, St. Petersburg , Graz, Austria, and many other locations .
In America , there are the great Tanglewood festival in rural Massachusetts, longtime Summer home of the Boston symphony orchestra , the Aspen festival in Colorado , the Blossom festival in Ohio, Summer home of the Cleveland orchestra , the Ravinia festival outside of Chicago , Summer home of the Chicago symphony orchestra , the Hollwood bowl in Los Angeles with its resident orchestra the Los Angeles Philharmonic , the Ojaj festival of contemporary music in California , the Summer opera festival in Cincinnati , the opera Festival at Santa Fe New Mexico with its unique open air opera house , and many,many others .
The annual festival at Bard college just north of New York city is the Summer home of Leon Botstein's American symphony orchestra , and will present the U.S. premiere of the obscure but great Russian opera "The Oresteia " by Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915 ) ,part of it songoing series of revivals of important but long neglected operas , and the Glimmerglass opera festival in upstate New York will also present interesting operatic rarities .
The ever popular Mostly Mozart festival will present a wide variety of works by Mozart and his contemporaries with its festival orchestra made up of some of New York's finest freelance musicians . For information , simply go to the websites of any of these festivals by googling them , and the New York Times also offers listing of these events . The Summer classical music festival scene is an embarassment of riches !
Today would have been the 84th birthday of the great conductor Carlos Kleiber , the son of another great conductor , Austrian Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) . He was born in Berlin in 1930 when his father Erich was music director of the Berlin State opera ,but grew up in Buenos Aires Argentina because his father had taken over as chief conductor of the remowned Teatro Colon opera house there after leaving Europe to escape the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria which he detested .
Carlos showed marked musical talent in his youth , but his father was opposed to his son becoming a conductor initially , so the younger Kleiber studied Chemistry in Zurich . But he managed to work his way up through the ranks of various German opera houses as a rehearsal pianist and coach to singers , and his career as a conductor began after his father died in 1956 .
Carlos never wanted to become music director of a major opera house or orchestra because he wanted to be free to conduct on a free lance basis , without the onerous tasks of dealing with the administration of these organizations . The great Herbert von karajan wanted Kleiber to be his successor as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , and although he had great admiration for the elder maestro , he declined this great honor and Claudio Abbado, who cellebrated his 80th birthday last week , took over in 1989 when Karajan passed away at the age of 81 .
Kleiber was a regular with the opera companies of Stuttgart and Dusseldorf in Germany , and later with the prestigious Bavarian State opera in Munich , and his fame grew all over Europe . His first recording , and one of the commerical ones he made was for Deutsche Grammophon records in the early 1970s : Carl Maria von Weber's renowned opera "Der Freischutrz " (the free shooter) , with the great Dresden State orhestra , then in East Germany and a cast of leading German opera singers , and is still considered the finest recording of the opera by many critics and fans .
The only other commercial recordings Kleiber made were acclaimed ones of the 5th and 7th symphonies of Beethoven , the Brahms 4th and Schubert's "Unfinished " symphony and 3rd , Verdi's La Traviata and Die Fledermaus of Johann Strauss with the Bavarian State opera , and Wagner's Tristan & Isolde , again with the Dresden State opera , all for Deutsche Grammophon , and for EMI records, the Dvorak piano concerto with the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter . There is a live recording on Sony Classical of a Johann Strauss New Year's day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic .
Kleiber became known as a quirky personality who conducted rarely and only when he found the rehearsal conditions right . He demanded much more rehearsal time than was normally granted for conductors even though he was conducting works which the orchestral musicians and opera singers had perfomed numerous times . All the world's foremost orchestras and opera companies vied for his presence on the podium , but he was very particular about when and where he would conduct .
He also became notorious for cancelling conducting engagements if he became displeased with anything , such as not having enough rehearsal time , not having the same musicians in the orchestra for every rehearsal and performance of a particular opera etc. Each Kleiber performance became ot be a gala event . He appeared sporadicaly with the Bavarian State opera in Munich , the Vienna State opera, La Scala Milan , the Royla opera in London , finally making his long-awaited debut at the Metropolitna opera in 1088 , where he conducted performances of La Traviata, La Boheme, and Der Rosenkavalier in the course of three seasons . He also conducted the Chicago symphony on a few occaisions . These were his only appearances in America .
Unlike his father Erich , Carlos restricted himself to a very small repertoire of orchestral works and operas . His operatic repertoire consisted of basically , such repertoire staples as Carmen, La Traviata, Otello , La Boheme, Tristan &Isolde, which he conducted with great acclaim at Bayreuth for several seasons , Der Rosenkavalier and on a few occaisions Elektra by Richard Strauss , plus orchestral favorites by Beethoven, Schubert , and Brahms . He was certainly familiar with a much wider range of works, but for some reason he could not bring himself to conduct a wider repertoire, which is our loss .
Carlos Kleiber's performances were rneowned for their brilliance and apparent improvisatory freedom and spontaneity despite the lavish reharsal time he demanded , and rarely received a negative review ,unlike most prominent conductors .
There are a number of pirated recordings on smaller record labels of his performances , but they do not have the luxury of the first-rate sonics of Deutsche grammophon, and some of his performances can also be seen on DVD , such as Der Rosenkavalier and Carmen . Kleiber lived a quiet and modest life in his Munich home with his Slovenian wife and two children and pretty muhc avoided the limelight .
By the late 1990s he conducted less and less , finally succumbing to cancer in 2004 . All in all, Kleiber conducted far fewer performances in his career than most leading conductors , who are usually constantly on the road , or preoccupied with a particular orchestra or opera house . Orchestral musicians and opera singers adored him , but rarely had the chance to work with him . There are several interesting documentaries about this strange and fascinating maestro which you can se eon youtube . Deutsche Grammophon recently issued a box set of all the recordings he made for them . Carlos Kleiber was a one of a kind maestro .
Today is the 80th birthday of one of the foremost living conductors , Milanese-born Claudio Abbado , who has a resume which few classical musicians can equal . He has served as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , where he was chosen to fill the shoes of the legendary Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan after his death in 1989 , music director of Milan's prestigious La Scala opera , the Vienna State opera and the London symphony orchestra , as well as as a regular with the Vienna Phhilharmonic , and such great American orchestras as the Boston symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras .
Since stepping down in Berlin about a decade ago , when England's Sir Simon Rattle took over , he has continued to conduct the world's leading orchestras as well as founding the Lucerne Festival orchestra in Switzerland , an all star festival orchestra chosen from the cream of the greatest orchestras in Europe , as well as other festival ensembles of his design . A bout with stomach cancer several years ago forced him to cut down on his activities , but he ppears to be in reasonable health now .
Maestro Abbado has a wide-ranging repertoire ranging from Mozart ,Haydn and Bach to contemporary music and he is equally at home in the opera house and the concert hall . He has made numerous recordings , mostly for Deutsche Grammophon records but also for Sony Classical and Decca ,many of which have been internationally acclained by leading music critics . You can hear his recordings of the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schubert ,Mendelssohn and Mahler , plus others by Schumann, Bruckner , Prokofiev .,Berlioz and others , and works by Rachmaninov, Stravinsky , Debiussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Alban Berg, , and many other composers .
He has collaborated on concertos with such great instrumentalists as Isaac Stern, Alfred Brendel . Itzhak Perlman , Martha Argerich , to name only a handful .
In opera , he has made acclaimed recordings of such great operas as Don Giovanni, Carmen , Pelleas&Melisande, Verdi's Aida, Don Carlo, Macbeth , Simon Boccanegra , Rossini's The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola (Cinderella ) , Wagner's Lohengrin , Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov , and others , with some of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, including Placido Domingo, Teresa Berganza, Sherill Milnes, Nicolai Ghiaurov,Mirellla Freni and others .
Some years ago , I attended a concert by Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic in Carnegie hall playing Mozart's symphony no 39 and the Bruckner 7th symphony , and it was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life . In the Bruckner symphony , the orchestra produced a sound of unerathly richness, beauty and power and tonal purity as to seem like an orchestra from heaven,not earth . The audience cheered so loudly at the end I had to cover my ears !
So happy birthday ,maestro Abbado ! You have enriched the lives of opera and concertgoers all over the world for a half a century .
Wagner's mighty four opera epic "Der Ring Des Nibelungen " The Ring oif the Nibeling " has come in for lot of satire over the years since its first complete performances at the historic Wagner festival in Bayreuth Germany in 1876 . It has inspired the beloved television crtoons with Bugs Bunny (I'll kill da wabbit sung the the theme of the Ride of the Valkyries ) and the antic spoofs of the late musical comedienne Anna Russell (1911 - 2006 ) ,to name only tow of the best known examples .
Also , there are stereotypical images of fat opera singers dressed in absurd pseudo Viking costumes which have been used in so many television commercials . You can see Anna Russell's Ring satires on youtube in whiich she whoops it up imitating fat Wagner sopranos and jokes about the supposed absurdities of the Ring's plot .
But is the Ring of the Nibelung really silly , and proof of how ridiculous opera plots supposedly are ? Not at all if you actually attend performances of it either in its 16 hour four day complete form or one opera at a time , listen to complete recordings or CD or live perfomrances on DVD .
The Ring is no sillier than such beloved films as Star Wars, The Lord Of The Ring , or Hartry Potter . You see, it's a fantasy adventure based on German and Scandinavian mythology with a story Wagner fashioned out of those ancient Teutonic legends . The Ring is actually the granddaddy of Star Wars , Lord of the Rings and other fantasy movies . To complain that the Ring plot is silly is to miss the point altogether . The Ring is a vast allegorical tale of greed, lust for power and riches , treachery , betrayal , love , hate , ruthless ambition and how that lust for power and riches destroys everything . It is set in a mythical Germany among Gods and Goddesses , giants, dwarves who live deep oin the earth , water nixies , humans , superheroes and the Valkyries, who are the warrior daughters of the supreme God Wotan who fly on magic horses . There is a fateful magical Ring forged from the stolen gold of the Rhine which confers magical powers on whoever possesses it but which also has a fatal curse on it . Whoever possesses the Ring has power over the entire world . The various characters fight over the fateful ring throughout the cycle with catastrophic end results , the "Twilight of the Gods ". The destruction of the gods in their castle Valhalla by fire and where the Rhine overfloows it banks , destroying everything . But this cataclysmic ending comes with the hope that a better world will come in its wake .
Sounds like a cool story, doesn't it ? It is ! With today's opera singers, who are for the most part normal looking people who can act well, the Ring will not seem silly at all if you give it a chance . Instead , you will experience real people, even if they are Gods ,dwarves and superheroes , who are complex and fascnating characters struggling against the consequences of their greed , hate , ruthlessness , and blind foolishness , as well as others who show great courage , selflessness , and love . Combine this with Wagner's sweeping , passionate , colorful and turbulent music , and you have one of the greatest works of music ever written . No womder the Ring has captured the imagination of people all over the world for well over a century .
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